What it Feels Like to Be a Teacher These Days


I’ve tried to write this piece five times in the past three days, but words keep failing me. Emotions rise up, my fingers tremble and I find myself thinking, “What’s the point of even saying anything?” And I delete everything. Then I try again.

This time I’m not going to think too hard. I’m going to just let it flow. I may need to apologize to some people, so I’ll do that right up front. I’m a teacher; we tend to be polite.

I’m retired now, but I was a teacher for three decades. My daughter is a public school teachers. I count many educators among my closest friends.

In my teaching career, I’ve heard that teachers are lazy. I’ve had many people write or say that teachers have the job so they can work those short days and have lots of vacation time.

In those same years, I’ve arrived at work in the dark so I could meet with a parent who had an early morning job. I’ve stayed at work until well past dark, eating a sandwich at my desk, so I could be available to parents who worked late. I’ve stayed at school so my class could perform a play for their families, show off projects they’d created, share books they had written.

All meaning that I wasn’t with my own kids at the time.

I’ve known colleagues who spent 2 full days of school “vacation” working in their classrooms. I’ve seen veteran teachers enrolling in extra classes so they could learn about new techniques for behavior management. I had a colleague who spent a weekend learning about deafness when she was informed that she’d have a hearing impaired student in her class.

During years of contract negotiations, I’ve had members of the public tell me that teachers are “greedy” because we wanted a 3% raise. I’ve been told that educators are overpaid because they only work 182 days a year. I once had a local man tell me that it was “ridiculous” to expect a salary increase when “the job is the same every year.” This guy lived in a house that I could only dream of, drove a car that cost more than the house I do live in, and vacationed in Europe with his family every year.

I’ve known teachers who bought soccer shoes for kids who couldn’t otherwise play. When I retired and started packing up my stuff, I realized for the first time just how much money I’d spent on supplies, furniture, books, toys, decorations and appliances for my class. Almost every teacher I know has had a stash of snacks for kids who don’t have one.

I recently saw a social media comment saying that “Unions are for teachers and school committees are for students.” As if TEACHERS are not there for STUDENTS. I’ve been told that teachers should learn to “put the kids first.”

I’ve known teachers who have gotten children medical help when parents were unwilling. I’ve known teachers who have gone in early every day for months so that a kid with school phobia could get to the classroom and get settled before the other kids. I can name teachers who have missed lunch twice a week for a year in order to give extra support to a child who needed it. And teachers who have pushed and pushed and pushed until their students were given the mental health and educational support that they needed. I’ve gotten myself in trouble with my administrators for working with kids outside of the school day.

And with all of our wonderful “Education Reform”, teachers have been told to stick strictly to the curriculum, because if we don’t, our kids won’t do well enough on the tests. Our grade level won’t see enough test score improvement. Our school won’t look good. Don’t deviate from the curriculum! No extra lesson on music, just because you’re an expert! No!

At the same time, everybody on the face of the earth tells us that “schools should teach banking skills and social skills and sex education and gardening and nutrition and the pledge of allegiance and health and anti-bullying strategies and anti-racism and why aren’t there more service projects? Why don’t teachers focus on teaching technology skills? And let’s not forget handwriting!

But do. not. deviate. from. the. national. curriculum.

I’ve been at parties where someone hears that I’m a teacher. If I had a nickel for every time someone responds with some variation of “You know what kids today need?”, I’d be able to supply a fifth grade classroom for a decade.

I once had an acquaintance tell me “If those kids had two days with me in charge you wouldn’t see any discipline problems!” This came from someone whose kids I know. Suffice it to say, he was full of crap. He wouldn’t have lasted twenty minutes in my classroom of 25 kids.

Find me a teacher who hasn’t heard someone say, “A swift kick in the butt would fix these kids.” Then let that teacher explain how many hours he spent working up a behavior plan to support the kid who keeps acting out, knowing that the kid’s parents were in the middle of a bitter divorce. Or his grandpa just died. Or his cousin overdosed. Or he was trying to figure out this reading stuff, but it wasn’t working for him.

When schools are shot up by madmen, teachers are expected to jump in front of those bullets with no questions asked. And most of us would. We’ve been told to carry guns, but that we can’t have coffee pots in our classrooms because they’re too dangerous. We’ve learned to comfort scared kids in lockdown drills. We’re left to explain to them that if they are in the hall when the lockdown call comes over the speaker, they need to go to the closest classroom. We are charged with guarding their lives, their emotional well-being, their sense of safety.

And now here we are in the middle of the worst pandemic to hit the earth in 100 years. Every single part of this globe has been hit. Everything has changed. Everything.

Teachers were told that schools were closing down, and a week later that they had to start teaching remotely. Teachers and administrators were told to get the kids in the air and build the plane while flying. All while trying to keep their own families safe.

And that brings me to right now, in the once admirable state of Massachusetts.

A state whose education commissioner has decided that ALL schools need to be completely open and running to ALL kids by April 1.

An insanely stupid and dangerous idea which once again puts teachers in the position of having to suddenly change the crazy, stressful, overwhelming routine that they’ve been using all year to teach kids remotely or in a hybrid model. No more social distancing if 24 kids are in one room. No more. Just masks (except for lunch!) and fingers crossed.

And teachers like my daughter are just going to have to suck it up and cope. As usual. They’ll have to figure out a way to merge two completely separate groups of kids who don’t know each other into one cohesive learning unit, a task that usually takes about a month at the beginning of a school year. They’ll have to put themselves at twice the risk of getting infected and bringing the deadly disease home to their spouses, their kids, and maybe the parents who are helping with childcare during this madness. They’ll have to just deal with is.

As usual.

And I’m sure that there are thousands of people out there who haven’t stepped foot in a classroom since 1980, but who are more than ready to tell them what they’re doing wrong and how selfish they are to want to stay alive and how it’s time for the unions and the teachers to start thinking of the kids for once.

Yes. I am enraged.

And really, really sad.

What Covid Has Cost Us


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I haven’t written here for weeks.

I lost my voice a while ago. Covid took it, and I had no idea how to get it back.

I’ve been enormously lucky, and I know that. As the United States passes the point of half a million deaths from this terrible new disease, I am one of the few who can say that I have not lost anyone close to me. Yes, my family has been hit by the virus, and we have had our terrified days of wondering how badly our loved ones will suffer, but to date we have not lost a family member.

We are lucky.

I know that.

But as we come closer, day by day, to the end of this seemingly endless stretch of pandemic days, I am ever more aware of all that we have individually and collectively lost. As that faint light at the end of our universal tunnel grows incrementally closer, I find it harder and harder to look away from all that has been stolen from us.

I will turn 65 years old in three short weeks. I’ll be able to get my vaccination, and within six more weeks, I’ll be essentially free of the fear that has gripped the world for the past year.

I can’t wait for that moment. I am truthfully breathless at the thought of being so free, finally, and so able to once again embrace my life.

But this “almost there” feeling has somehow catapulted me right back to the early fears of this terrible global disaster. And I can’t stop thinking of all that we’ve lost, and all that we now have a duty to mourn.

I am so sad tonight.

My heart is breaking at the thought of all the birthdays I didn’t get to celebrate last year. It hurts to think about the weddings that didn’t ever happen, including the wedding of my youngest child to his wonderful, beautiful, much loved partner. I was so ready to dance and laugh and celebrate with them last summer, but it didn’t happen because of Covid.

I cry when I stop to realize that my newest grandchild is approaching a year old, but has never even once been held by the aunts, uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents who love him so much. He is already saying words, crawling around the house and feeding himself, but the people who should know him best have yet to even kiss his forehead.

I dream every night of earlier times. I dream of my now grown sons, and of the feel of their arms around me. Sometimes I dream of them as children, when I could fold them against my body and know that I was keeping them safe. Sometimes I dream of them as men, and how I loved to rest my head against their strong shoulders, knowing that they were happy and strong.

A year.

It’s been an entire year without those hugs. A full year without one shared dinner. Without a single morning of waking up in the same space. It has been 12 long, painful, difficult, exhausting months of wondering what would happen to us next. Week after week after week of Covid data and conflicting news reports and promises of better days.

For an entire year, everyone on this small blue planet has been waiting for some good news. We are united in our uncertainty and we share a common sense of loss.

We miss our lives. We miss driving to work, and having lunch with colleagues. We miss live concerts and dancing together in courtyards and fields. We miss holidays and forced family togetherness. We miss crowding around the table and bumping elbows with cousins. We miss our friends. We miss hugs and kissing cheeks and holding babies and holding hands and holding ourselves together with our shared laughter.

We’re still here. And there is a light at the end of this terrible tunnel. We think that someday all of this may become a memory.

But we need to grieve for now. We need to cry. We need to mourn the births that we were unable to celebrate and the deaths that we could not honor. We need to look at each other, every single human one of us, and we need to let out a cry to the universe about all that we won’t ever be able to regain.

We have lost a year. It won’t come back. There will be no second chance to live these months.

We’re coming up on a year.

And I am just so very very sad.

What if Everyone Had Enough?


Photo by Jacob Morch on Unsplash

I’m sitting here looking out my window. It’s cold and gray, and the woods look depressingly empty of life. The news is on, but I’m not paying full attention. I’m sad. I’m scared for the next few days in my country. I’m sad about the past four years. And actually the four before that. And going back even further.

I’m remembering the days of Occupy Wall Street, when thousands of people felt so cheated by the economic and governmental systems of the US that they took to the streets to protest. There were huge crowds of angry people blocking banks and businesses, demanding a fair chance. Demanding a share of the profits that Wall Street and its investors were reaping.

They were called leftists. Radicals. Socialists. Anarchists. What motivated them to protest was their belief that no matter how hard they worked, they’d never be able to get to an economically secure place in life.

The past several years we’ve seen more and more anger from people who are called “right wing” and “reactionary”. They’re labeled as racist, white supremacist, fascist, radical. This past week we were all horrified to see that rage erupting into a violent assault on the government and our elected leaders.

What are they so furious about? They feel like they aren’t being treated fairly by the economic and government systems. They feel like their lives are insecure. Like what they are entitled to have is being kept from them. They think they’re being cheated. They feel like no matter how hard they work, they’ll never be able to get to an economically secure place in life.

And it has all got me thinking.

What if everyone had a reliable income? I mean, like what if the minimum wage was actually enough for people to live on and to take care of a family? What if a person could work 40 hours a week and earn enough for food and rent?

And what if everyone could go through life knowing that if they get sick they can go to the doctor? What if parents knew that they would definitely be able to pay for a trip to the emergency room if their son broke his arm? If Americans, like people in nearly every other country on earth, got health insurance guaranteed, I wonder how that would impact the fear of losing a job?

I’m sitting here thinking. What if every single kid was able to dream of college? What if even poor kids in small rural towns knew that as long as they got good grades, they’d be able to afford college? What if that motivating dream was actually out there in front of every child, instead of just the wealthy one?

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a radical. A damn socialist. A leftist.

Whatever.

I just wonder if some of the rage that is tearing us apart would dwindle down in a country with less inequality. I wonder if we’d be less likely to attack each other if we weren’t afraid for ourselves and our families.

Given everything that has just happened here, maybe we should at least try it.

Looking Over My Shoulder


It’s late. The moon is just past full, and stars are peeking between the branches of the leafless trees. It’s cold, but not as cold as it should be in Massachusetts on the last day of the year.

My husband has gone to bed, but I am restless. I haven’t stayed up to see the New Year in a few years. But this year is different.

Everything is different.

This year the ending of the calendar count feels momentous. It feels like rebirth, like renewal. It feels like an ending, and this time it is an ending that we all crave.

I’m wide awake.

I am not sure why I’m so alert; I’ve been in bed by 8PM for months. Snuggled under the blankets with a book or the iPad, ready to rest. Ready to let go of another day in 2020.

But not tonight. No, tonight I am awake. I have a glass of wine, a bowl of popcorn and a dog on each knee. My right foot taps, taps, counting out the seconds. The curtains are drawn, but I feel the moonlight hitting the yard. I stand up, walk to the sliding doors, peer out into the woods.

All is quiet. I hear no owls, no coyotes, no restless neighborhood dogs. Everything is holding its breath. The night is holding its breath, and so am I.

I don’t know what I think will happen at the stroke of midnight. I don’t believe that the sky will fill with bursting light, or that night birds will break into song. I do not foresee a swirl of warm wind stirring up the leaves, or the sound of distant voices singing of freedom and love.

I don’t expect that the dogs, asleep in their canine curls, will feel the change in the universe.

But I will.

I will.

At the very moment when the second hand sweeps past the 12, and the meaningless human invention of the calendar turns to a new year, I will exhale. And I will lean over my knees, with my hands over my eyes. I might shed some tears.

In my heart I’ll say what I’m thinking.

“We did it,” I’ll say. “We made it.” I’ll think of how unbelievably lucky I have been, without having lost a single friend or family member. I’ll send out thanks to the universe for protecting me and mine.

But right after that, I’ll let the rest of my thoughts emerge. I just might open that slider and step out into the night. I might just howl into the darkness, a shriek of rage and frustration. If I do, I’ll be thinking of all of the lost opportunities. All the losses of every child who hasn’t been able to play with a friend. Of every teacher who has had to teach children she’ll never see. I’ll scream for the people who lost the businesses that they built step by step out of their dreams and their courage and their endless work. I’ll cry and shake my fist for everyone I know who has not yet met a grandchild, a nephew, a cousin. For every father or mother who lost a job in spite of every best effort, when the pandemic crashed the economy. For every loving couple who postponed a wedding. For every graduate who missed that chance to “walk” and accept a diploma.

I’ll scream for every friend who has had to say goodbye to a parent, a sibling, a friend, or a child.

I’ll bark and snarl into the wild woods, letting Mother Nature know that I am not amused at her sudden attack.

I know that we are lucky. I know. I thank the goddess, the universe, the powers of heaven, every single day. Every day. I have had my beautiful grandchildren in my arms throughout this terrible year. That makes me lucky beyond anyone else I know. My sister and my mom, both of whom I love beyond words, have survived this awful virus.

And yet.

The last year, the infamous 2020, was a horrific, awful, exhausting shit-show of a year. From the political machinations, to the overt racism, to the incompetent government, it has been a year of disaster. Lost jobs, lost friends, lost classroom time, lost loved ones, lost hugs, lost dreams, lost opportunities. Twenty-twenty was full of loss.

I intend to tell it goodbye. I intend to tell it to go straight to hell, where it belongs.

Another fifty minutes, and I will stand on my deck. I will bang on a pot with a wooden spoon, ring some Tibetan bells and I will yell, most likely at the top of my aging lungs.

“Good fucking riddance, 2020!!!!”

Then I’ll probably cry myself to sleep, out of pure relief.

I’ve Got BIG Plans for New Year’s Eve!


It’s almost here! Huzzah!!!

Woot!! Woot!! Woot!!!

It is almost time to mark ourselves “Safe from 2020”!!

Such a festive and exciting evening! I just love New Year, with all it’s hope and happiness and all that other upbeat crap.

Of course, this year we won’t be going out for the usual midnight revelry with friends and family. We won’t be crowding into the city streets to sing and clap and watch the fireworks.

Instead, we’ll have a Happy New Year’s Hunker.

I’m going to make egg rolls!

I’m also going to try out a few quainte olde traditions of the past to increase the fun. And to increase the chances that I’ll make it safely through 2021.

For example, I’ve been reading a lot about the fascinating ancient times when pagans across Europe celebrated the solstice to welcome in the new year with health and prosperity. I learned that they would bring evergreen boughs inside the house, light special candles and bang on drums at midnight to chase away the old luck and welcome in the new.

Fun!

Lot’s of cultures have special traditions about what to eat and drink on New Year’s Eve, what to wear, what to say, and even specifically how to act. All to insure good luck in the next twelve months. Really interesting stuff!

So, here is my plan for New Year’s Eve as we finally kick 2020 to the curb and welcome 2021 into our loving embrace. I share it with you because I love you.

Also because I hope if enough of us finally start cooperating on something, life will be way more fun next year.

I plan to get out of bed around 8 AM. I’ll take a shower, but this old body is literally that last thing I plan to clean that day. Did you know that some cultures believe that you shouldn’t wash or clean one single thing on New Year’s Eve? No cleaning allowed.

I just love this one.

In some other countries, including Italy, you’re supposed to organize everything ahead of time and throw out all of your old clutter. Been there, done that. Been organizing ever since the lockdown started last March. So I’ll jump right into the no cleaning part of the day.

First I’ll grab some onions from my kitchen and tie them together with red yarn. Next I will hang them on my front door. Because Greek tradition tells me that I should.

Next I will venture outside to the woods. There I will gather an armload of evergreen boughs. This will be easy. The winter of 2020 has already given us three wind storms, so all I have to do is pick up some of the branches lying around.

Back inside the house, I’ll ignore all the dropped pine needles (no cleaning, remember?!) and arrange everything in a basket. I’ll put out three white candles, but I won’t light them until the sun goes down.

When that is done, I’ll grab a bundle of sage, or sweetgrass (what the heck is that, anyway?), or pine needles. I’ll light them on fire, blow out the flame and let the whole thing smoke. This is so I can “smudge” the house and get rid of any bad luck.

(Um….maybe someone should have suggested this last May???)

At last, it will be time to think about food.

Yes, I know. Some of us are always thinking about food. Move on.

In addition to my eggrolls, Paul and I will be dining on lentils, because they are shaped like coins. Really, teeny weeny coins, but still. Prosperity. We will also eat black eyed peas and collard greens, because eating these traditional foods will also bring prosperity. I don’t actually see the connection between black eyes and prosperity, but I’m not taking any chances.

This is where things get really fun.

Did you know that in Italy it is customary to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve? I have no idea how this brings good luck, but depending on the underwear and age of the wearer, I can see where it might lead.

At any rate, after enjoying our prosperity veggies, Paul and I will change into our red flannel long johns and settle down to enjoy some delicious herring while snuggling under a lovely fur. (Said fur is supposed to be a coat, but I don’t have a fur coat. I’m hoping that having our big dogs on our laps will count for this one.)

As midnight approaches, we will light the three white candles that are arranged around the basket of pine boughs. We will chant something along the lines of

“Begone olde year, you stinking crone! We’re sick of hunkering alone. Welcome, New Maid, to set us free of masks and shots! So mote it be.”

I took some liberties with the chant, but you get the general idea, right?

Next it will be time to open up the front door and all the windows to let out the bad luck and welcome in the new.

(This is probably where the fur comes in handy.)

When all the luck has changed, and the house is down to about 4 degrees, we’ll eat the last bite of herring and move right onto dessert. It’s a good thing Paul doesn’t like lentils, collard greens or herring because he’ll have plenty of room to indulge in luck enhancing fried dough in various shapes and sizes and stuffed with various fillings. M’hm.

I suspect that the post holiday dieting tradition may have started here.

And…..as the moment finally arrives…..as the countdown at last counts down, we will ring bells, bang on pots and pans, kiss each other with love and joy and eat exactly twelve green grapes.

We will lean out the open windows, and yell into the cold night air.

“Good riddance, 2020!!! And don’t come back!!!”

We will close all the windows, turn up the heat, blow out the candles and have one last eggroll before bed.

And in the morning, as prescribed by Irish tradition, the first person to cross our threshold will be a tall, dark, handsome man. Good thing our daughter didn’t marry a redhead.

And it will be off to 2021, which we are absolutely sure will be a year of health, happiness, weddings, parties, hugs, kisses, singing, birthday parties and visible smiles.

Happy New Year, friends!

Merry Christmas!


Now take off those rose colored glasses.

After everything we’ve been through in the past year, it sure is tempting to feel sorry for ourselves. Christmas without family is just plain sad. No family parties. No traditional family foods. No swap gifts or big family photos. For the first time in 35 years, we don’t have even one of our children under our roof of Christmas morning.

Not one measly kid.

Boo-hoo, poor us!

In the face of our pitiful pandemic celebrations, it’s easy to look back at every Christmas of the past through the lens of perfection. Compared to this year, it seems like every single holiday of my life was filled with fresh snow, happy children, and perfectly cooked meals shared with smiling loved ones.

Oh, and tastefully decorated trees, too.

When I look back on all the years of Christmas, I’m sure that I looked exactly like this lovely blond woman wrapped in her white furs and yuletide evergreens. I can clearly remember the sweet ringing of silver bells as our horse carried us over the snow……..

But naturally, that’s all bull pucky.

So as I sit here listening the rain pouring down on my snowless roof, in my completely quiet house, I am thinking back on Christmases past.

And you know what I am remembering?

Some of them were pretty bad!

For example, I remember the year when we put up our very first full sized fresh tree. Our daughter was three years old, and this was the first time we were living in a house instead of a cramped apartment or my parents basement.

We spent more money than we had on a beautiful tree, took hours to decorate it perfectly, and stand it in our window. And two hours later our sweet little girl was covered in hives. Dear Lord, was she allergic to the tree??? We called the doctor, who said, “I don’t know.”

So out went the tree, and off to the store went my husband. He came back with one of the only fake trees left. It was a gorgeous pretend blue spruce and it cost three times what the overpriced real tree had cost.

But we set it up, and we went on to use if for about 20 years.

THAT was a tough Christmas.

Then there was the year when we took that same fake tree out of the basement closet and dragged it upstairs to the living room. As we unwrapped the tarp, we found the branches filled with bits of fiberglass insulation, pieces of cloth and dozens of bird seeds.

The mice, it seemed, had been nesting all year in our tree. When we opened the cardboard boxes containing all of our ornaments, we found that they were full of mouse poop and seed shells, too. As the Mother of three very young kids, I reacted with typical mother serenity.

I put EVERY washable ornament in the bathtub and filled it with hot water and bleach. I soaked the crap out of those things. I threw away a bunch of stuff, sprayed bleach water on a bunch of stuff and vacuumed that poor tree to within an inch of it’s life. The kids cried. I cried.

Eventually the tree went up and we lit multiple candles to cover the smell of bleach.

Good times, good times.

One Christmas we all had strep throat. Well, four out of five of us did, anyway. Dad had his tonsils out as a kid, so he was healthy. But I was as sick as a dog, and so were all three of the kids. We skipped the extended family Christmas Eve gathering at my parent’s house, because we were all feverish, sick and aching. As I recall, we were all asleep by 7pm. We got up to open Santa’s gifts, but everyone was wrapped in a blanket and shivering again by 9 am.

I distinctly remember that Christmas dinner that year was Cream of Wheat cereal.

And I will never forget the year that we finally retired the old fake spruce. That extravagant expenditure ended up being the bargain of the century, because it lasted for so many years. But when it’s plastic needles started to fall off and it’s branches were mostly bent out of shape, we decided it was time to go for a real tree.

That was the year I convinced my now college aged sons to help me cut down a local pine. See, we basically live in a freakin’ pine forest. It seemed silly to pay for a tree. It was also the middle of the big recession, around 2009, and most of the homes in our neighborhood were empty. The pines were beginning to crowd onto lawns.

So, environmentally conscious woman that I am, I grabbed a hand saw and headed out with my strong young sons. And off we went. We found a nice healthy white pine growing along the road, and down it came.

It was only after we tried to hang ornaments on it that we realized white pines are WAY to weak and floppy to be Christmas trees.

That year was our “Charlie Brown’s Tree” year. We had to tie the damn thing to a hook we stuck in the wall.

So you can see that not every Christmas in my life was perfect. I’m going to guess that a lot of yours weren’t so perfect either.

But you know what?

These are some of our favorite stories now. These are the stories that make us laugh and appreciate each other and share a common warm memory.

So I’m thinking that one day, in the not so distant future, we’ll be laughing at our Zoom dinners, our distanced visits and our Christmas texts.

It’s time to take off those rose colored glasses and start appreciating what we still have right now.

Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukah. Festive Solstice to you all.

Thinking of Teachers Tonight


I’m thinking about America’s teachers this evening. I was a teacher for more than 30 years, so I know what our teachers are doing tonight.

They’re planning, organizing, writing out lessons for tomorrow and the days after. They’re thinking about certain kids right now, wondering how last night went for them, or worrying about the best way to teach them that tricky math concept.

I know how hard teachers work.

Twelve years ago tonight, I was at my dining room table, working on lessons for the next day. I remember grouping my students to make a fun cooperative science lesson. Like thousands of other teachers, I was headed into the upcoming week thinking about behavior plans, IEP meetings and the holidays on the horizon.

Tonight my heart is reaching out to all of the teachers across the country.

Twelve years ago tomorrow was a normal school day for me. December 14, 2012 was sunny and not too cold in my part of the world. I arrived in my classroom like normal, greeted my kids and went through a typical school morning. We had morning meeting, we did our math lessons, we laughed and worked and counted the days until vacation.

Then my students went off to lunch, and I finished up with my regular classroom chores. I think I went to the office to copy some worksheets, then grabbed my inter-office mail. I remember that I was sitting at my desk, with a half eaten sandwich in my hand. I checked my phone and saw a text from my husband.

“Did you hear the news this morning? There was a shooting at a school. It’s awful. Are you OK?”

My heart sank, of course, but I thought that maybe one person had shot another at a high school or college. Terrible, but not that unusual. I opened my computer and checked the news.

How can I describe the feeling that swept over me as I read about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School? How can I even begin to process the horror that came with reading about twenty tiny bodies slaughtered in cold blood and torn to bits in their kindergarten classroom? I remember being numb. I remember going to the window of my classroom, a room that was probably almost identical to the one where some of my colleagues were murdered just hours ago. I looked out onto the playground. I wanted to find “my” kids and bring them inside. I was more afraid at that moment than I can ever remember being. I wanted to get my kids back into our room, lock the door, pull down the shades and keep them safe.

My principal came, making sure that every teacher had heard the news, offering support and explaining what had happened. He convinced me that my students were OK, and to let them finish their recess.

I stood at the window, repeatedly counting their heads in the recess crowd. I was shaking when they came back inside.

I know how teachers feel when something threatens their students. I do. I knew it before that day, but I know it more deeply now.

But it was in the weeks that followed Sandy Hook and the horrific slaughter of innocents when my sorrow came to a head. That was when I came to realize that our society considers the lives of teachers to be expendable.

Yes, I know.

That sounds like hyperbole.

But I was there in the classroom after the Newtown massacre. I heard all the discussions about arming teachers. I heard people talking casually about the fact that laws limiting guns would be wrong, but leaving kids and teachers as targets would be just fine.

When I expressed the fact that as a teacher I was trained to nurture and protect, but not to kill, I was called a coward. I was told that if I wasn’t willing to take a life to protect my students, I shouldn’t have my job. I was told this more than once.

I was told that I should have a plan for attacking and resisting a shooter. I reorganized my room so I’d have a tall bookshelf to push over on someone if I had to.

It was the most demoralizing, heartbreaking period of my long teaching career.

My country and its leaders showed me in those dark days and weeks that the rights of angry men to carry weapons of war was more important than my right to teach in safety. Even worse, those so-called “gun rights” were more important than the right of every innocent child to live through a day in public school.

Well.

I guess having lived through the Newtown horror and the complete lack of any reaction from American leaders, I should not be at all surprised to see teachers working every single day in the face of the worst pandemic in a century.

Every day I read in the news that I should not visit my children over Christmas. I should absolutely not share a meal with them, or with my mother or my siblings. I am told by the best experts in the country that I should absolutely not eat indoors in a restaurant. It’s not safe, I’m told, to travel to visit family this year. Danger, danger, danger, they say. You must stay safe. No spending a day with your grandchildren!

But teachers must be in their classrooms. In spite of the crumbling conditions of thousands of school building, teachers must be in classrooms with kids. Although kids are eating in their classrooms (for safety), teachers shouldn’t stop at a restaurant for dinner. Everyone, we have been told since last March, everyone must stay at least 6 feet apart! In the grocery store we stand on circles to keep us apart. We “social distance” when stopping for gas.

But in classrooms? Three feet apart is fine, for reasons that defy logic. Teachers can’t be within 6 feet of their adult offspring, but its fine to be 3 feet from their students.

I shouldn’t be surprised to see that the United States is more than willing to sacrifice its kids and its teachers so that moms and dads can be free to work and keep the wheels of capitalism turning. I shouldn’t be surprised.

But I should be royally pissed off.

In fact, I’ve been royally pissed off since December 14, 2012.

I Refuse to Cancel Christmas!


One tiny microscopic virus is not going to rob me of the joy of Christmas. No how, no way. I know my rights as an American.

I refuse to skip my Christmas festivities.

But you know what?

I am going to postpone them.

My husband and I aren’t putting up a tree this year. Without any family or friends around to see them, why drag the boxes of ornaments out of the attic? Why move the furniture and untangle the lights? Everything can just stay all snug in the attic for now.

Instead of hanging lights and baking cookies, this year I’m spending my time planning. I’m making lists of names, designing decorations, planning a menu.

Because next summer, I am going to throw the biggest freakin’ party in the history of parties. Not since Bilbo Baggins threw his big eleventy-first birthday party has there been such an outrageously festive event.

I plan to have this event somewhere outdoors, just so everyone can fit. But there will be an indoor venue there, too, because it’s been way too long since we’ve been able to gather indoors and be all squashed together.

My giant celebration will include the introduction of my newest grandchild, little Max, because so many of our family and friends have yet to meet him. It will also be a birthday party, because he’ll have turned one year old in April. And while we’re giving gifts and eating cake, we’ll also celebrate the birthdays of Max’s older siblings, his parents, his grandfathers and grandmothers and all of his aunts and uncles.

The day will include a fabulous wedding, too, since my son and his partner had to postpone their plans for last August. We’ll have tons of champagne, piles of appetizers and live music by every band we haven’t been able to see in the past year. There’ll be toasts, and dancing and reunions of old friends along with the exchanging of vows.

The main food of the day will be turkey with all the trimmings. I mean the whole shebang; stuffing, dressing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans and squash and fifteen kinds of pie. I can hardly wait to start cooking!

To set the mood for the day, there will be lots of sparkling decorations all over the venue. We’ll choose a place with some nice big pine trees, and we’ll wrap some of them in colored lights and hang red, green and gold balls on them. Maybe everyone will bring a gift to swap!!!

Every fifteen minutes, a bell will ring, and everyone will hug the person next to them. The hugs will be long and fervent and filled with affection and joy. People will kiss each other on the cheeks, or even on the lips, if you can imagine such a thing. There will be a lot of shouting and laughing while large groups of guests stand less than two feet from each other.

At least ten times during the party, everyone will throw an arm around someone’s shoulder while we all sing loudly. This will happen mostly in the indoor part of the event space, of course, so that we can achieve maximum mingling of breath.

And just to make the party a truly exciting and unique event, I’m going to ask everyone who attends to wear a costume and carry around a plastic pumpkin! Oooh, I have a great idea…..I’ll give out little candy bars as wedding favors!

At midnight, fireworks will be sent into the night sky and everyone will clap, cheer, wave various and sundry flags and shout “Happy New World!”

Naturally, before the party winds down near dawn, everyone will go out into the grassy field next to the giant dance floor/stage. As the sun rises, all of the kids will hunt for colored eggs and hidden candy. Then we’ll all have a big brunch on the lawn.

I can’t wait.

I’m thinking of calling it “Postpone-a-palooza.”

You want to come?

Athletic Injuries Explained


The world is full of people who love to get out there and embrace life. They are hearty, healthy souls who aren’t afraid to take risks. They thrive when they can breathe in the fresh cold air of a challenging ski slope. They are happiest facing whitewater rapids, hiking the steep and rocky slopes of giant mountains or surfing the steepest of waves.

I am not one of those people.

Nuh, uh. Not me.

Nevertheless, I am constantly injured and in pain.

I once broke a bone in my foot by falling off a flip-flop in the wet grass. Not only did I break a metatarsal, I was too faked out to see a doctor. So I walked on it and broke it over and over for six long weeks.

Then there was the time I had to go for an emergency endoscopy after getting a bite of KFC lodged in my throat.

One time a few years ago I was persuaded to go snow tubing by a group of my closest and most beloved friends. Predictably, while they were flying down the hill head first on their bellies, I carefully sat on my big old butt and went down the safest slope. In spite of my best efforts, I managed to break a rib by smacking into a five year old and then ricocheting off the teenaged boy who was there to stop people from flying into little kids.

I am a walking, talking injury report, even though my most athletic undertaking is baking bread.

I mean, I like my life. I want to hold onto it for a while. I like this old body. I try hard not to hurt it.

Even so, here I am, on this bright sunny winter morning, with an ice pack on my face, a hot pack on my back, and cannabis/menthol rub on my elbow.

What happened, you ask? Was I wrestling alligators for fun? Did I participate in a bronco busting event or play tag football with local teens?

Nope, nope and nopie.

The back hurts from holding my eight month old grandson, and lifting him in and out of his crib.

The elbow hurts from…..well….from playing the violin. I played for an hour yesterday. AN HOUR!!!!

And the jaw?

It appears that I dislocated the left side of my jaw while eating eggplant.

No, I am not kidding.

I should explain that I’ve had problems with my jaw for about 50 years. I have “TMJD” or “Temporo-mandibular-joint Dysfunction.” This means that pretty much every time I open and close my mouth the joints in my jaw make an audible “pop” as they slide partly in and out of their sockets. They ache a lot, and once in a while one side locks, meaning that I have to use heat and ice to gradually release it.

Last night I was enjoying a lovely dinner and chatting with my husband when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in the left socket. When I say “sharp pain”, I mean that for a minute there I was pretty sure someone was sticking a red-hot pair of scissors into my face. The pain radiated into my chin, my cheekbone, my left ear and my eyeball.

I dropped my fork and clutched my face.

I thought that it was just one of my usual lockjaw moments. I thought I could just massage it away.

Three hours later, my mouth was still stuck. It was open about a half-inch, but nothing I did would get it any further. I went to bed with a hot pack on my face and a couple of ibuprofen in my belly. Somewhere in the middle of the night I realized that I couldn’t actually close my mouth, either. I could get my front teeth together, but my molars felt like they were on different tracks, with the top set heading east and the bottom heading west.

There will be no steak in my immediate future.

I’m not writing all this to make you feel sorry for me (although if you’d like to send a donation to my ice-cream fund, I won’t turn you down). No, I am writing this because I want you all to understand that there is a very good reason why some of us are not the most athletic people on earth.

I want to share the pain and embarrassment that comes with being a fragile flower. There is a reasonable medical explanation for why people like me spend our days on the couch instead of the ski-slopes.

If I can be injured while walking, can you imagine me trying to skydive? I’m in serious pain and possibly headed to the ER in the middle of a pandemic, all because I was injured while EATING EGGPLANT.

No, thank you. I’d rather pass on riding my bike through the Himalayas.

Be careful out there.

An Ode to 2020


In the first month of Covid
2020 gave to me
A shortage of P.P.E.

In the second month of Covid
2020 gave to me
Two rubber gloves
And a shortage of P.P.E.

In the third month of Covid
2020 gave to me
Three sanitizers
Two rubber gloves
And a shortage of P.P.E.

In the fourth month of Covid
2020 gave to me
Four science nerds
Three sanitizers
Two rubber gloves
And a shortage of P.P.E.

In the fifth month of Covid
2020 gave to me
Five Murder Hornet Stings!
Four science nerds
Three sanitizers
Two rubber gloves
And a shortage of P.P.E.



In the sixth month of Covid
2020 gave to me
Six feet of distance
Five Murder Hornet Stings!
Four science nerds
Three sanitizers
Two rubber gloves
And a shortage of P.P.E.

In the seventh month of Covid
2020 sent to me
Seven Charmins missing
Six feet of distance
Five Murder Hornet Stings!
Four science nerds
Three sanitizers
Two rubber gloves
And a shortage of P.P.E.


In the eighth month of Covid
2020 sent to me
Eight masks a-slipping
Seven Charmins missing
Six feet of distance
Five Murder Hornet Stings!
Four science nerds
Three sanitizers
Two rubber gloves
And a shortage of P.P.E.

In the ninth month of Covid
2020 sent to me
Nine glasses fogging
Eight masks a-slipping
Seven Charmins missing
Six feet of distance
Five Murder Hornet Stings!
Four science nerds
Three sanitizers
Two rubber gloves
And a shortage of P.P.E.

In the tenth month of Covid
2020 sent to me
Ten families Zooming
Nine glasses fogging
Eight masks a-slipping
Seven Charmins missing
Six feet of distance
Five Murder Hornet Stings!
Four science nerds
Three sanitizers
Two rubber gloves
And a shortage of P.P.E.

In the eleventh month of Covid
2020 sent to me
Eleven schools in lockdown
Ten families Zooming
Nine glasses fogging
Eight masks a-slipping
Seven Charmins missing
Six feet of distance
Five Murder Hornet Stings!
Four science nerds
Three sanitizers
Two rubber gloves
And a shortage of P.P.E.

In the twelfth month of Covid
2020 sent to me
Twelve vaccine trials
Eleven schools in lockdown
Ten families Zooming
Nine glasses fogging
Eight masks a-slipping
Seven Charmins missing
Six feet of distance
Five Murder Hornet Stings!
Four science nerds
Three sanitizers
Two rubber gloves
And a shortage of P.P.E.